Posted by: GeekHiker | September 21, 2012

Dreams Of Space

Space Shuttle Endeavor flew over California today, making a scenic tour over the State Capitol, San Francisco, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Los Angeles basin before touching down at LAX.  Endeavor will eventually end up at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, a choice apparently made because so much of the development, testing, and manufacturing Shuttle components was done in Southern California.

Being a few miles off the flight path, I missed seeing it in person, but was still able to observe it by streaming the video online.  I didn’t tear up, as some did, but seeing the Shuttle did bring back some childhood memories.

I dreamed of being a Shuttle astronaut.

A lot of kids do, I suppose.  Kids in the 60’s wanted to be Apollo astronauts, to go to the moon.  In the 70’s, to serve aboard Skylab and stay in space for months at a time.  In the 80’s and 90’s, flying Shuttle runs was the dream.  Today?  I have no idea.  Do kids dream of flying Russian rockets up to the ISS?  Probably.  If you have a kid nearby, ask them.

The Shuttle, though, was most definitely of my generation: born in the 70’s, launched in the 80’s, flying right through the heart of my childhood.

1981.  Star Trek was still being shown every weekday at 5:00 on Channel 40 (back in those primitive days when there were only six channels and, although we had no idea our good fortune, 24-hour news channels did not exist).  Star Wars toys were still in heavy rotation for me (back in those days before Phantom Menace, Jar-Jar Binks, and Midi-chlorians; again, no idea how fortunate we were).   Summer afternoons were still given over to play rather than to job searching, worrying about the economy, or fretting over whatever crisis was blowing up in the Middle East (all the same fears as now, but I was blissfully unaware and, you guessed it, had no idea how fortunate I was).

And those first Space Shuttle flights.  Back in the days when the launches were all over the news, covered live on television.  Back when the external tank was still painted gleaming white.  Back when everyone was in awe of the vehicle that promised regular, efficient, economical trips into space.

A heady mix of science fiction already in my head, in the Shuttle I saw my chance to become the astronaut I’d dressed up as for Halloween.  So enamored was I of the idea, I begged my parents to let me go to the local Space Camp one summer, where we learned about the history of space flight, physics, and technology.  We even did mock shuttle launches, sitting in folding chairs in the elementary school gym and reading scripts of the launch procedure.

The dream faded, like so many childhood dreams do.  As the years passed, the Shuttle flights never became as regular as promised (though regular enough, it turned out, to be ignored by the public).  I learned that those who piloted the shuttle were usually fighter pilots with perfect vision, a knowledge I gained at the same time as my first pair of glasses.  My math and science skills came up short: I’d never be the PhDs they were sending up as mission specialists.

No, my feet would remain planted firmly on Earth.  I turned my attention and my dreams in other directions.

Watching Endeavor today, I thought about those childhood dreams.  I remembered the times the Shuttle crossed my life.  Watching the first launch in ’81.  Hearing the news about Challenger in my second period science class in junior high.  Watching the first post-Challenger flight lift off.  Seeing the ISS being built, piece by piece.  Reading the details of the Columbia disaster online.  Looking at pictures of repair missions to the Hubble and the wondrous pictures it brought us.  Watching the final Shuttle flight lift off from Kennedy Space Center last year.

I may never get to be an astronaut, and with their retirement, I’ll never get to fly on a Space Shuttle.

But I think a lot of people may have felt like I did today: reminded of what it was like to be young, looking up at the sky, and dreaming.



  1. Exactly how I felt about the death of Neil Armstrong.

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